If you’ve made the decision to divorce, or if your spouse has served you with divorce papers, the next thing you need to do is decide who will advise you and advocate for you throughout the divorce process. Your choice of attorney will affect the division of property, whether spousal support is awarded (and how much), and most importantly, the time you’ll spend with your children and the support they’ll receive. There are many lawyers who practice family law and handle divorces. How do you know which one is right for you?
In many ways, choosing a divorce attorney is like choosing a surgeon. In both cases, you’re undergoing a complicated, life-changing procedure that has the potential to go terribly wrong if not handled skillfully, or the potential to give you a new life if done right.
There are many fine and dedicated attorneys who are recent law school graduates, but there is no substitute for having experience with the local courts, Friend of the Court, and other attorneys. Experienced attorneys typically also work more efficiently than new lawyers, and their experience allows them to offer advice that can help resolve a case more quickly and with less hostility between parties. If you were having surgery and could choose between a surgical resident and the chief of surgery performing your operation, you’d almost certainly choose the experienced doctor who’d performed this surgery hundreds of times. The same principle applies to choosing a divorce lawyer.
A Jack of All Trades May Be a Master of None.
Some attorneys have a general practice and do a little of this, a little of that. The problem with this approach is that when you do many things, you may not devote enough time or energy to any one of them to do them really well. On the other hand, an attorney who concentrates his or her practice in one or two areas tends to be truly focused on those practice areas, more experienced, and more attuned to developments in the law that could affect your case. If you were having heart surgery, you’d certainly want it to be performed by a cardiac surgeon rather than by a general surgeon. Why, then, would you have your divorce handled by a general attorney when you could have an attorney who focuses primarily on family law?
Pay Attention to Reputation.
Any attorney who has passed the bar can practice law, but that doesn’t mean all attorneys are created equal. When choosing a divorce attorney, find out what other people say about him or her. It’s good to have information from past clients, but if you can, find out how other lawyers regard your prospective attorney. Is the attorney regarded as ethical? Is he or she known for stirring up conflict (which leads to more attorney fees) or helping resolve it? Just as you’d want your operation performed by a surgeon who was respected in his or her field, you want a divorce attorney who is respected both by former clients and fellow professionals.
Don’t Underestimate Your Feelings.
Most people have encountered doctors who were brilliant, but who had terrible bedside manner. They may perform a patient’s surgery flawlessly, but the patient may nonetheless have a terrible experience because the surgeon’s demeanor increased, rather than reduced, their stress. There may not be an equivalent term for bedside manner in a relationship between an attorney and client, but it exists. If you’re facing a divorce, you likely have many anxieties and questions. You want an attorney who is attentive to this, and who is accessible to you and responsive to your concerns. Divorce is not just a legal process, it’s an emotional one. While your lawyer isn’t (and shouldn’t be) your therapist, it’s important to have an attorney who makes you feel better about what you’re going through, not more stressed and anxious. The bottom line: if your attorney makes you uncomfortable, he or she might not be the right attorney for you.
If you have a Michigan divorce in your future, talk to an experienced Oakland County divorce attorney to learn more about the divorce process and what you need in a divorce attorney. Attorney Jim Hubbert has handled many Michigan divorces and makes it a priority to help his clients reach their goals in divorce with as little stress as possible.